The power, beauty, majesty and duty of reality

It seems to me, realising that a blind, unfeeling universe gets to be conscious through us, and thus able understand itself via our minds (for we are the tiny, infinitely precious, conscious bits of this vast universe), provides far greater comfort than some mythical stone-age god which threatens you with an eternal lake of fire and torture if you disobey some bizarre, often inappropriate, primitive laws.

Some religious friends have told me that their god gives them purpose and that without it they would be lost. I try to explain to them that they haven't thought it through completely. They don't know the mind of their god so can't know what purpose it might have (it moves in mysterious ways), so the only meaning they have is in giving up looking for one, and accepting instead broken and outdated fabrications from our primitive, superstitious past.

On the other hand, it's easy to derive genuine meaning and moral goals from the real world around us.

There are two basic forms of material in the universe: alive and non-living. Living things have a main simple purpose: to continue life.

Some living things have developed brains to help them live, and that brings another purpose on top of, and in aid of life itself: to learn.

Some intelligent creatures form social groups in order to better survive and that gives yet another purpose: to care for our fellows.

Humans are special. We have developed phenomenally oversized brains which grant us expanded purposes. We can learn about far more than just the things our survival depends upon, and in that learning we can see that all life is interwoven and that we depend upon all those around us, so we need to look after all life, not just our own. We can see beyond ourselves, and our family, and our tribe or clan, beyond our village or city, past state and national borders, even past species boundaries to realise we are all brothers and sisters -- not just all humans, but all the other mammals, even all other vertebrates, all other animals, and even all life.

The power, beauty, majesty and duty of reality far exceeds the pettiness of any parochial stone age myth.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
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a little story analogy for free speech

You're having a pleasant afternoon stroll in your neighborhood. With its tall trees, much shrubbery, plentiful birds, and lack of fences, it looks like virgin bushland, but it's actually fairly well populated suburbia, with low-built homes nestling among the trees, mostly hidden. You and most of the people who are privileged to live here are very proud that this area supports an extraordinary diversity of rare and endangered animals and plants, and is one of the few remaining strongholds of koalas in the state. Usually it is lush and green and damp because of the way the trees tend to keep everything under them moist, but we've been going through an unexpectedly long drought lately, so everything is unusually dry.

You round a corner in the path and are surprised and horrified to see a fellow standing, lighting matches and dropping them into the grasses near him. He seems fascinated with the fire and giggles each time it catches. In alarm you run forward, snatch the box of matches from him and successfully stomp out the flames.

This makes him angry, "Hey! Those are my matches! You can't take away my property. I have a right to them and to use them as I see fit."

Is he correct? Does he have the right to put everybody's lives at risk by setting alight to where you live? Fire is an incredibly powerful tool, and without it we humans probably would have died out long ago, but do we have a responsibility in its use? Does he have an unrestricted right to the matches he clearly owns?

Free speech is very important, and is an extremely powerful tool, especially in the hands of public figures, such as politicians and people in the media. Should they be allowed to ignite division and hatred among people and risk burning our diverse and peaceful society down? Or should it be a requirement of their position to be the best of us, wielding their tool of free speech responsibly?

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

a little story analogy regarding climate change denial

You're on your way to a business meeting that could make you a lot of money. Ahead is a bus and a small car parked on the side of the road before a bridge and a lot of men milling around. Several of the men frantically wave you down as you approach the bridge. Reluctantly, because you don't want to be late, you stop and ask the men what's up. They tell you the bridge ahead is dangerous and you shouldn't cross it.

You peer at the bridge and say it looks alright to you.

Another man saunters over and says to ignore them; the bridge is fine.

One of the men who warned you growls that the bridge is definitely unsafe and anyone driving across will cause its collapse and they'll fall to their death. He says you should believe them because they are bridge engineers on the way to an engineering convention. There are 97 of them in the bus, and they unanimously agree that the bridge is unsafe. He points to the guy who said it's okay and says that fellow and two others came in the small car parked behind the bus. Those three say it's safe, but they're not even engineers. One is an economist, one is a geologist, and the third doesn't seem to have any qualifications at all.

Do you risk the bridge anyway, or do you thank the engineers, and take a less direct, but safe route to your destination?

97% of scientists warn us we're causing catastrophic climate change. 3% deny this. The deniers are mostly economists, geologists, and others who are not climate scientists.

Do you choose a safe path, or risk collapse and death?

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Blackmail threat

I just got a threat from some piece of shit out there on the net.

He posted from IP at an address in Athens marked by the red pin in the map. The idiot thinks faking my name in the "Send" field of the email makes him anonymous. (I should note that the map address might just be the server for his internet provider, not his personal address.)

He assumes that I'm into porn. That's a stupid mistake which comes off as an empty threat because I actually never bother with porn. The closest I get to it is occasionally reading some lesbian romances.

He thinks I have a camera on my computer that lets him take pictures of me having sex. Nope. I don't have a camera on my computer and I live alone, happily, without a sexual partner for decades.

He says he's spent a lot of time spying on me. Well then he must have a very boring life because I spend most of my time writing about social justice issues.

He thinks he can intimidate me by telling me my ancient mySpace password. He assumes I use the same password for everything (like many people do). But I use a different password on everything that requires one. And it certainly isn't the password into my computer.

Here is what this jerk-off wrote:


I have very bad news for you.
03/08/2018 - on this day I hacked your OS and got full access to your account
On this day your account has password: snuffled0g

So, you can change the password, yes.. But my malware intercepts it every time.

How I made it:
In the software of the router, through which you went online, was a vulnerability.
I just hacked this router and placed my malicious code on it.
When you went online, my trojan was installed on the OS of your device.

After that, I made a full dump of your disk (I have all your address book, history of viewing sites, all files, phone numbers and addresses of all your contacts).

A month ago, I wanted to lock your device and ask for a not big amount of btc to unlock.
But I looked at the sites that you regularly visit, and I was shocked by what I saw!!!
I'm talk you about sites for adults.

I want to say - you are a BIG pervert. Your fantasy is shifted far away from the normal course!

And I got an idea....
I made a screenshot of the adult sites where you have fun (do you understand what it is about, huh?).
After that, I made a screenshot of your joys (using the camera of your device) and glued them together.
Turned out amazing! You are so spectacular!

I'm know that you would not like to show these screenshots to your friends, relatives or colleagues.
I think $896 is a very, very small amount for my silence.
Besides, I have been spying on you for so long, having spent a lot of time!

Pay ONLY in Bitcoins!
My BTC wallet: 18YDAf11psBJSavARQCwysE7E89zSEMfGG

You do not know how to use bitcoins?
Enter a query in any search engine: "how to replenish btc wallet".
It's extremely easy

For this payment I give you a little over two days (exactly 55 hours).
As soon as this letter is opened, the timer will work.

After payment, my virus and dirty screenshots with your enjoys will be self-destruct automatically.
If I do not receive from you the specified amount, then your device will be locked, and all your contacts will receive a screenshots with your "enjoys".

I hope you understand your situation.
- Do not try to find and destroy my virus! (All your data, files and screenshots is already uploaded to a remote server)
- Do not try to contact me (you yourself will see that this is impossible, I sent this email from your account)
- Various security services will not help you; formatting a disk or destroying a device will not help, since your data is already on a remote server.

P.S. You are not my single victim. so, I guarantee you that I will not disturb you again after payment!
This is the word of honor hacker

I also ask you to regularly update your antiviruses in the future. This way you will no longer fall into a similar situation.

Do not hold evil! I just do my job.
Good luck.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

theory of mind and helping people

Theory of mind is an interesting concept. It lets us understand what another person sees. We generally develop this ability at about age 4 years.

Here is a common way it is explained: A father phones home and his three-year-old daughter answers. He asks her what she's been doing. She answers, "I've been playing with this." She doesn't understand that he doesn't know what she's looking at.

Last year an artificial intelligence was able to demonstrate theory of mind. This is a big deal. It is the beginning of empathy. There's still a long way to go yet, of course, but it's still pretty damn amazing.

I've begun to wonder if theory of mind is not the solid thing it is generally assumed to be.

I often help friends and family with their computer problems over the phone. It is extremely rare for a person to describe what they are seeing. Usually they seem to assume that I can see what they do. And it isn't just because they assume I'm an "expert" with computers. Often they'll do this with computer interfaces that I've told them I have little or no experience with. I'll jokingly tell them I haven't developed telepathy yet, so don't know what they're looking at, so they need to describe for me what they're seeing. But for some reason I've never understood, this is almost impossible for most people to do. Instead, I have to describe what I think they might be seeing and ask them if that fits or not, going through multiple descriptions until, either one fits what they're seeing or they become too frustrated and call an end to it.

Why is this? I'm not exceptional. Why can I describe things, but most other people can't? On rare occasions I have met people who carefully detail what they see and it's like turning on the light in the room. I can see what they see and quickly help them to the solution, if I know it. This makes it even more obvious there is something very strange going on here.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Disappeared page

An opinion piece was published at Forbes a couple of days ago, but has mysteriously disappeared. Even stranger, when checking the Internet Archive I found the article there, but when I began to read it, it disappeared too, to be replaced by a blank page. I tried viewing it a number of times on the Internet Archive, and each time it showed for a few seconds before disappearing, so I grabbed it before it disappeared and I am posting it here. I understand white Christian conservatives will consider it contentious, but everybody else on Earth will think it is unsurprising.
It's now been reposted to:

Here's the absurd explanation Chris Ladd received from Forbes regarding the post they removed:

We took down your evangelical piece. It was way out of bounds — painting the entire evangelical movement with a broad brush.

We also have a policy of not talking about social issues like abortion at Forbes Opinion — only economic policy and politics. We try to keep things data driven.

Also, given your criticisms of Robert Jeffress, you should have reached out to him for comment. As I noted in a recent email, it is extremely important to reach out for comment from anyone you personally criticize in your work.

Let me know if you have any questions about these points.

Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel

Chris Ladd, Contributor</p> Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Diana Martinez, 18, an undocumented student was arrested with a dozen other undocumented students refusing to leave their sit-in in the Hart Senate Office building. Photographed on July 20 in Washington, DC. (Mark Abramson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South. And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War, and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at local store to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might helpful to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization? Nothing. Not one word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter. White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.

Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion. Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants. White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense. The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident. It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.

While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.

You will know a tree by its fruit.


Chris Ladd, former GOP Precinct Committeeman, author of The Politics of Crazy and creator of PoliticalOrphans.



(A lovely friend, Dorejejaguar, prompted me to write this last night.)
I've often wondered why I'm happier than most people. After reading a fair bit on the topic I've come to the conclusion that I was just lucky that my upbringing accidentally gave me some very useful tools. My old girlfriend, Margaret, missed out on them and she makes herself miserable.

Here are the tools I've been able to figure out so far:

I am deliberately grateful for things. There are lots of things we can be grateful for -- I have my eyesight (despite losing some in one eye), I can hear beautiful music (despite gradually going deaf), I have the use of my hands and my legs, I have thousands of books (both on paper and as ebooks), I have a lovely little companion doggie, I can pick up the phone and ring my wonderful parents who are less than an hour's drive away, I live way out in the country where birds and frogs serenade me, I have oodles of amazingly interesting videos to watch and talks to listen to (most downloaded from the net)... and so on. Studies have shown that feelings of gratitude boost enjoyment of life.

Helping people
I help people when I can. We are social creatures so our brains are wired to generate pleasure when we help others. But this has to be genuine help otherwise it backfires. For example getting frustrated with someone because they don't use your help the way you'd expected, or they don't appear to appreciate it, makes you upset instead of happy because you are actully doing it for yourself instead of for them. It can be difficult, but it's a nice buzz when you get it right.

Find ways to view anything in a positive light. I like to boast that I can see the silver lining in the darkest cloud. It's not entirely true, but it mostly is. I can turn around almost anything to see the positive in it. It has become habit. (Margaret does the opposite and she often rings me depressed about something trivial that she's worked up into something worse than it should be. That's her habit, and she doesn't realise how it hurts her.)

Some examples make this clearer. Recently I hurt my back (I probably tore a muscle by picking something up the wrong way.) It was astonishingly painful. I could barely walk and couldn't sit at the computer for very long. I turned it into a positive by using it as an excuse to get a lot of reading done, lying in bed.

Here's another example: about a decade ago I was on chemotherapy, lost much of my hair, and was constantly exhausted. I had to pause walking up just a few steps to catch my breath. I turned it into a positive by studying the changes and understanding them. It was fascinating to see how the treatment made me anaemic, and I really enjoyed observing the effects in myself. It gave me greater understanding of, and empathy for, people who are similarly afflicted. It was an opportunity to learn because it doesn't matter how many times we read about something, or are told, we don't truly understand it until we experience it.

Another example: Some time back, I was listening to an interview with a writer who said that when she was little and she hurt herself or some other bad thing happened to her, her mother (who was also a writer) would say to her, "Don't worry dear, it's all grist to the mill." In other words it becomes part of her life experiences. It used to annoy the absolute crap out of her when she was a kid, but now that she's grown up and is a writer too she realises her Mum was exactly right. All those experiences -- good and bad -- give her a wealth that she can draw upon. I feel the same way. One time I was having a scary-looking mole cut out and when the doctor started cutting he said that if I can feel that to let him know and he'll inject more local anaesthetic. I said that it was okay because the pain was interesting. He looked at me funny, but I meant it. It wasn't overpoweringly awful, and it was an experience you don't get very often.

A last example: when I was visiting Margaret in New Zealand a few years ago I was helping her by mowing her lawn. When I took the mower from the back lawn around to the front lawn I switched off the mower and was clowning around running down the driveway acting as if it was a racecar. I swerved suddenly near the front gate, but didn't notice the concrete there was mossy. My feet went out from under me and I went down hard, tearing a hole in my pants, badly grazing my knee and one hand. But I focussed on how ridiculous it must have looked and collapsed in laughter punctuated with "Ow, ow!"

I'm not saying that I'm special. I'm just lucky that this has become a habit so I don't even have to try to do it anymore.

Getting something done gives a nice jolt of pleasure, whether it is cleaning the kitchen, or writing a small computer program, or learning a song, or drawing a picture. Weirdly, sometimes I get the greatest pleasure from simple things that take very little effort, but fulfill a need or desire.

Always make sure you get enough. If you don't have sufficient sleep, don't worry about it, catch up later with a nap.

Don't seek it
One very important thing about happiness. I've noticed that seeking it seems to push it away. It's like that tip-of-the-tongue feeling when you're trying to remember a particular word; the harder you try to remember it, the further it recedes from your grasp. The best way to catch the word is to stop trying to catch it and it will pop into your mind later unbidden. Happiness is like that. I've met people who try and try to be happy and it makes them miserable. But you use tricks to elicit happiness while doing something else.

Some things that work for many people, but I don't need:

Bright light
Sunshine can boost the brain's production of melanin, which can make some people happier. You don't need a lot of sunlight to get this effect. It's why some people feel more unhappy during winter.

Happiness diary
A happiness diary can force people to notice the good things in their life. Just note down the good things that have happened to you each day, but not the bad things. It helps the good to loom larger in your view. The bad things will always be there and don't need help, but if your view is mostly uplifting then it sets your frame of mind.

Friends and family
Having contact with friends and family seems to boost happiness for most people. (I enjoy my friends and family, but I don't need that to make me happy -- I love being a hermit. I don't get lonely.)

Physical activity can boost pleasure. Sweeping the floor, going for a walk, dancing, calisthenic exercises. I am not a fan of heavy exercise. I prefer it gentle.

There are a few resources I highly recommend. One is an excellent documentary titled simply "Happy". I haven't been able to find it online but if you ask me I might be able to find a way to get it to you.

Another great resource is Dan Gilbert, a scientist who studies happiness. He's written a very interesting book called "Stumbling on Happiness" which is about how we can find (and lose) happiness in unpredictable ways and what we can learn from that. He's given some TED talks on the topic:

Movies or books that are uplifting, especially comedies, can do wonders. One of my favorite YouTube videos is a Russian one of ordinary people helping each other. It never fails to choke me up and make me feel very happy:

Laughter truly is a marvelous medicine. Even hearing a laugh can cause happiness, especially if it is a baby's laugh:

I love listening to Radiolab episodes. They are almost always uplifting human-interest talks with a good dash of humor. My favorites are the older ones. They have more than 200 of them online and new ones come out every couple of weeks.

Finally, stay away from the mainstream media. Its entire business model is centered on making people fearful and angry. It is very successful at holding audience attention, but it makes people unhappy.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

odd-even weeks or calculating fortnights

This calculates even weeks, that is, it can calculate fortnights:
expr \( `date +%s` / 604800 \) % 2 >/dev/null || echo "even"

or if you want odd weeks:
expr \( `date +%s` / 604800 + 1 \) % 2 >/dev/null || echo "odd"

There are 604800 seconds in a week.
"% 2" gives the remainder after division by 2.
When expr evaluates to zero the command after the OR (||) is run.

My rubbish collection is on alternate weeks. But cron doesn't know about fortnights and I only put my rubbish out once every two or three months (I don't have much waste). So I use this in cron to trigger an alert on the appropriate day:

0 10 * * mon expr \( `date +\%s` / 604800 + 1 \) \% 2 > /dev/null || alert "garbage day"

I can't remember why I escaped the "%" symbols. I think maybe cron chokes on them if you don't.

Oh, I should add that "alert" is not a standard command. It is a script that I wrote which puts a notice on the screen and uses speech synthesis to announce the message.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

matching a pattern in thesaurus output

There must be a simpler way to do this. I was looking for words similar in meaning to "back" or "previous" or "before" but beginning with the letter "d".

My awk is a bit rusty so I used sed, which I seem to use almost every day, wonderful, ugly command it is. Here is what I came up with:

dict -d moby-thesaurus back | sed -z 's/,/\n/g' | sed 's/^[[:space:]]*//' | sed -n '/^[dD]/p'

dict looks up "back" in "moby-thesaurus"
pipe to...
sed gulps it all down as a single line using the -z option and, for all commas, substitutes a newline
pipe to...
sed removes all whitespace characters from start of each line
pipe to...
sed prints only lines that start with "d" or "D"

The choice of pattern is important, for example '\<d' also finds multiple word results where one of the words starts with "d" (e.g. "lay down").

But there must be a simpler way. Jeez!
I can hardly wait for general purpose AI.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

am, pm

Is anybody else confused by the abbreviations "am" and "pm" when applied to 12 o'clock midday and 12 o'clock midnight? It seems to me not only arbitrary and confusing, but actually wrong.

The abbreviation "pm" is for post (after) meridiem (midday), so when speaking of twelve noon or midday is actually incorrect to call it 12pm, because it isn't after noon yet; it is noon. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 noon, or 12 midday, or just noon or midday.

A similar problem occurs at midnight. It is easy to see why 11pm is still referred to as after noon (post meridiem) because it is better described as after the previous noon rather than before the next noon because it is closer to one than the other, even though it is in reality both. Likewise it makes sense that 1am is referred to as before noon because it is closer to the next noon. But midnight is closer to neither the previous nor the next. It is equally am and pm. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 midnight, or just midnight.

Apparently, in an attempt to avoid confusing people, travel times around the world commonly use 12:01pm or 12:01am or 11:59am or 11:59pm instead of messing with the ambiguous 12:00 times.

As for the term "noon". That's a weird one. In the past it meant the ninth hour (nona hora) beginning around dawn, or our 6am, so that the ninth hour would have been our 3pm. So how did that eventually become midday? I don't know. Ancient Roman timekeeping is seriously muddled, and I haven't bothered to untangle it yet. One thing I do like about it though, is that the length of an hour changed according to the season and the location, so that at Rome an hour in summer would be about 75 minutes and in winter about 45 minutes. That makes wonderful good sense to me. Screw this stupid daylight saving time and the constantly shifting rising and setting times of the sun. On the other hand, one of my biggest complaints against daylight saving time is that it makes international meetings via the internet incredibly difficult, and constantly shifting hour lengths would seriously mess with that too.

I expect that sometime in the future we might end up with something like Star Trek's stardate which would resolve all synchrony problems, while completely removing all local relevance. We've already had an attempt at that with UTC, which is basically Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) without silly daylight saving. Incidentally, although UTC is often referred to as Universal Time Code, apparently it stands for the French: temps universel coordonné, which doesn't really make sense as it would be then TUC. It seems actually to stand for Universal Time Coordinated, which is an awful name, clearly chosen by a committee. Being locked to Greenwich in England gets up some people's noses. Admittedly much of the early work recorded in books was conducted at the observatory in Greenwich. But there were a lot of much earlier, very accurate astronomical calculations in India, so Greenwich wasn't the first. Perhaps the invention of the first reliable, portable, mechanical clock by Englishman John Harrison decided things. I don't know.

Once thing is certain: time is a mess. I won't even get started on other aspects of it, such as the 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week (making calculations of every second day messy), 28 or 29 or 30 or 31 days in a month (WTF!!!), 52 weeks in a year, and 364 or 365 days in a year. Naming the months mixes everything up still further, with September (sept=7) being the 9th month, October (oct=8) being the 10th month, November (novem=9) being the 11th month and December (dec=10) being the 12th month. (FFS!!) And then to top all this off, adding the recent and completely unnecessary insanity of daylight saving into that wreckage just completely screws everything even further.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)